Man flies from Hawaii to forgive killer

LaBELLE — This is the story of a desire for closure and personal peace so strong that finally finding it — through the unconditional forgiveness and love Jesus preaches through the Bible — drove a man to fly from his home in Hawaii, twice, to LaBelle to read a poem for his mother’s convicted killers.

Bubba Wayne O’Connor, co-defendant in the murder of 72-year-old Cherry Ermine (aka Cherry Chasen), had his turn to face a judge at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22, at the Hendry County Courthouse.

Before the sentencing, two of Ms. Ermine’s sons read impact statements to the packed courtroom. Richard Chasen spoke directly to the defendant, granting him forgiveness and asking him to find a way to “make things right” while he is in prison.

Steven A. “Zander” Chasen opened with a prayer and then recited a poem he wrote called “In The Crosshairs of Time.” He turned to face the defendant and said, “I have forgiven you.” The courtroom was immediately filled with teary eyes and quiet sobbing. O’Connor received two concurrent life sentences without parole, plus 30 years. Restitution was also imposed.
O’Connor followed the woman who was sentenced to life in prison in February 2018 in atoning for their 2016 killing and assault that nearly left Ms. Ermine’s friend dead as well. Instead, that man survived and became the state’s star witness in the cases.

But first, O’Connor had to face Ms. Ermine’s youngest son in the LaBelle courtroom and listen to his plea that O’Connor turn his life around and toward the promise of God’s Word.

Zander Chasen of Wailuku (Maui), Hawaii, previously had written to this newspaper to inform people that he and Ms. Ermine’s oldest son, Richard, would be present to give impact statements in court for O’Connor’s sentencing hearing. Mr. Chasen said his poem titled “In the Crosshairs of Time” was his expression of forgiveness.

Both defendants threw themselves on the mercy of the court, and after Mr. Chasen flew from Hawaii the first time, to read his poem to Wendy Michelle Soucier, she received a life term last year. Zander wrote the poem after choosing to forgive the defendants, asking that the death penalty not be considered even though the state attorney had pursued it. The text:

‘In The Crosshairs of Time’
My mother loved her five children very much.
Capturing memories on film was her typical crutch.
She spent her life in religion and didn’t know true love,
So her identity became motherhood and not Christ from above.
Her life then changed through a simple prayer,
A relationship with Jesus, the ultimate form of care.
My mother’s now in heaven, a place of perfect peace,
She is no longer lonely, she is no longer deceased.
Forgiveness is now offered to those who took her life.
Repent, Wendy and Bubba, so God can remove your strife.
In the crosshairs of time you can transform;
You can then minister in prison; you can be reborn.
Let go of your past and simply receive.
Jesus loves past your sin, even though he still grieves.
Both of you hurt many people, and now it is done.
The waves of mercy now reflect from Jesus the Son.

On Oct. 11, 2016, a Hendry County grand jury had indicted the two suspects from Lehigh, O’Connor, then 42, and Soucier, then 49, in the killing that took place on Aug. 6, 2016, at the residence of Frank Jansson in Hendry County. On Nov. 30 of that year, the 20th Circuit State Attorney’s Office filed notices of intent to seek the death penalty in the cases against the two.
O’Connor and Soucier were indicted on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, robbery with a deadly weapon and first-degree burglary.

Twentieth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Abe Thornburg was the prosecutor.

According to authorities and Zander Chasen’s accounts posted on a Gofundme.com website, the pair traveled to the home of Frank Jansson, 69, which 72-year-old Ermine was visiting, spending a peaceful time on the property. The burglars were high on crack cocaine when they traveled to Mr. Jansson’s property with intent to rob him. When they arrived, they brutally killed Ms. Ermine and left her for dead. During the burglary, Mr. Jansson arrived back at his property after shopping when the pair attacked him, also leaving him for dead, but Mr. Jansson survived the attack.

Mr. Chasen, 46, traveled from Hawaii last week to be in Hendry County for the sentencing and still was making plans hours before his departure last Thursday with his wife, Julie, to speak in a local church on Sunday about forgiveness prior to their reading during the hearing.

They put up a Gofundme page to help cover their travel expenses and income loss from their trip of forgiveness: gofundme.com/witness-forgiveness-mom-039s-murder.

“My mother attempted to dial 911 when she saw Wendy and Bubba arrive to rob the house and was brutally killed with scissors and a kitchen knife (while trying) to report a home invasion. My mom’s dog Daisy had major trauma for weeks and was found at a dog shelter shortly after the incident. I traveled to Florida to represent the family and get my mom’s ashes and finish up what had to be done.

“Frank was stabbed several times and hit with a concrete block on the head and was left for dead. Miraculously, Frank lived to tell the tale and is, in fact, a star witness in this case. The State of Florida sought the death penalty and eventually settled for life in prison with no chance of appeal or parole for both defendants. Bubba’s girlfriend, who drove the van around for the robberies, was charged with 10 years for accessory to murder.

“My heart is to see both Wendy and Bubba receive both forgiveness and salvation, which makes no sense to anyone except Jesus Christ who transforms lives from the inside out. I now have peace that my mother is in heaven since she gave her heart to Jesus in the final years of her life,” Mr. Chasen wrote.

Staff writer Danika J. Hopper contributed to this report.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com

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